Saturday, March 22, 2014

Gardening: Things are moving fast with the warmer weather

Don't know his name, but this butterfly, and his many siblings, have been busy in
the wild black-berries. These are an early plant for us and will be harvested and
done by the time summer actually arrives.

Because they hug the ground they are ready to go just as soon as things
start to warm.

Bluebonnets, along with several other wildflowers around here
are also early bloomers. That's because they grow as little rosettes
that hug the relative warmth of the ground and as soon as the air warms
they start shooting up flower stalks. It's fun to harvest bluebonnet seeds too.
They are large, about the size of a cucumber seed, and are encased, several to a pod.
You have to time it just right because as the pods dry they twist and store up energy.
Harvest too soon and the seeds are not mature, too late and the pods have burst and
scattered the seeds several feet in all directions. Get it just right and when you cup
a pod in your hand and break it off it will snap open inside your fist and release the seeds.
Of course the first time this happens you're likely to be startled and drop the seeds anyway.

Don't know what this one is called but we get a lot of them too. The environment
beside roads and in some of the hay fields where regular cutting has opened
things up for them, seems to be just right for a variety of wildflowers and in late
March, early April you will spot all kinds of vehicles pulled over as the occupants
run out and crouch down to have their picture taken in the blankets of color.

Bottom watering plants appears to have some promise. It promotes good deep root development,
and gets the water in deep where it lingers rather than evaporates, especially in our climate,
reducing the frequency of watering.
This also had the advantage of keeping water away from the leaves and stems where it could burn the plant
or create a moist environment just right for various molds and insects.
A massive grow operation to supply big-box stores was built about 20 miles from here a few years ago
and the whole place is designed for bottom watering with tiers of shallow 'trays' the size of a basketball court
cut into the hillside so they drain from one down to the next and so on until the last one drains into
a retention pond where the water is then pumped back up to the top of the hill at the next watering.
All the grow-boxes we have are designed as miniature versions of this and as a temporary measure,
until I get my own version of a watering tray built, in order to bottom water the plants in the
red planters, I cut some left over 1" PVC to 14 inches then ran my saw over
one end to cut a pair of water-releasing slits. 

These are then stood on end, slit end down, in the pot, which has a 2"
high retention tray on the bottom,

then the potting mix is added.

(Sorry, bad lighting in this photo makes it hard to see but I'm too tired to go do it again)
Watering is then a matter of pouring water down the tube until it spills over the
edge of the retention tray. Once you get a feel for it, by tilting the pot every few days
you can tell when it's time to add more water. It's important to use a light and
well draining potting mix for this which will wick water up but not stay saturated.
 Soil mixes tend to get saturated which prevents roots, which need air, from growing deep.
Perpetually saturated soil will also start growing nasty, stinky things down there
in the soup, one of which just might kill the plant above.

Grow boxes with their built in bottom-watering reservoirs

And the red pots (Which are supposed to produce redder tomatoes??) with their
watering tubes. (Of the eight pots I bought, seven came with water retaining trays
on the bottom, one, with exactly the same UPC, has holes in the bottom tray. Four very tiny holes
that I never noticed until I tried to fill it up and it started running all over the
greenhouse deck. . .)

A left over hanging basket seemed like a good place for the catnip plant.
Hanging inside the greenhouse it should be safe from molestation while it
grows to harvesting size.
The 4th batch of spinach on the left which was direct sown once things warmed
up a little  (The other three got eaten by something before I could get them
transplanted.) and a lettuce on the right.
Swiss Chard on the left, a different lettuce on the right.
The first and second batches of carrots with room for one more batch in the center

An orange Bell Pepper plant has the honor of sitting in the one pot with
holes in the retention tray. This one will have to be watched carefully for
water until I get the bottom-watering tray build. This will probably be a
frame made of treated 2x4s draped in a heavy plastic.
The onions have really shot up in the last week
These pathetic looking things are my latest try at getting the heat tolerant
Flordade tomatoes to grow. If they ever take off one of these will have to
go to make room the for the other
This is one of the two Beefsteak tomatoes we have going. It's hard to tell in this
photo but compared to the Cherokee Purple and the Yellow Pear they are lagging
behind and some of the leaves are not the healthiest of greens.
This is one of the Cherokee Purples and these things are going gang-busters!
The Dianthus survived the winter well and is blooming strongly
The tips of one of the cactus have been burned by frost and
the whole plant needs some attention as it has grown to the point
where much of it is laying down because of the weight.

The roses are looking a bit leggy and sparse
They have been top dressed with compost
and a touch of organic fertilizer.
Now we just have to wait and see.
This turtle was tucked away and forgotten under the travel trailer my
Father-in-law spends his winters in down on the coast. Now he (the turtle,
not the Father-in-law.) has been rescued, cleaned up and is home for a
Lysimachia. (Don't know which one yet because it is a Walmart plant with
no more detailed information. In fact the tag calls it an annual yet claims
it's hardy to -30 degrees F???

We've had this small ceramic planter for a couple decades now. This
year it will host a white flowered Sutera Cordata, which should be
a perennial in our zone if protected from frost. 

This planter has Salvia in the center and Alyssum around the edges.
both seem to be doing well with the Alyssum leaves turning a
rich purple. I did plant a few seeds of Alyssum in the spout as well
but it doesn't water very well so I don't think they are going to make it.

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